Yesterday, we successfully bought you the VH1 staff’s favorite songs of 2011 without any bloodshed, and we’re happy to report that no one’s brain exploded while trying to narrow down the amazing albums of 2011 into a concise list. Again, what VH1 staffers enjoyed in 2011 was a rich and vibrant tapestry of genres, new comers and veterans, and Adele. Just kidding — while there’s a lot of love for Adele in the VH1 offices, Ye & Hov’s Watch The Throne came out as a dominant force at Times Square. The list also reveals how anti-authoritarian we are, as more than one staffer stuck it to the man and enumerated a mixtape or two in their favorites. Bad ass.
Mark Graham, Managing Editor, VH1 Tuner (@unclegrambo)
1. Jay-Z And Kanye West – Watch The Throne
It’s no My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but what is? Still, Ye and Jay’s collaboration was, by turns, dark, moody, opulent, joyous, outrageous, ambitious, self-obsessed, introspective, deeply thoughtful and wildly hilarious. A rich album by two rich guys.
2. Frank Ocean – Nostalgia/Ultra
The most promising R&B talent since R.Kelly, Ocean self-released this album after struggling to get his label, Def Jam, to return his calls. It’s a wholly unique LP, one that likely never would’ve come to fruition under the label system.
3. The Strokes – Angles
The least appreciated record of the year, by a longshot. The Strokes may not be able to stand each other on a personal level, but their musical chemistry together as a band is undeniable.
4. Rihanna – Talk That Talk
The dirtiest pop album since Madonna’s Erotica is also the tightest of RiRi’s career. Look for her to continue dominating the pop charts well into next summer with this record.
5. Fountains Of Wayne – Sky Full Of Holes
After the disappointing TITLE TK, FOW got their groove back on this delightful effort. No other band has done a better job creating and cataloging the experience of what it means to grow up Gen X in Manhattan.
6. Telekinesis – 12 Desperate Straight Lines
Power pop, pure and simple.
7. Various Artists, Drive: The Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Songs like “Nightcall” by Kavinsky and “A Real Hero” by college were inescapable around the time of Drive‘s release this summer.
8. My Morning Jacket – Circuital
MMJ doesn’t rock as hard as they used to, but then again, neither does this writer. In that respect, this band’s trajectory is very reassuring. (Also, if you’ll allow me to #humblebrag for a second, I was lucky enough to see them perform a big chunk of this record at a magical VH1 Storytellers taping back in February, so this record carries special weight to me.)
9. Bad Meets Evil – Hell: The Sequel
WTT got all of the attention, but this partnership between longtime Detroit allies Eminem and Royce Da 5’9″ featured some of this year’s most dizzying exchanges of verses. For me, a fan of “rappity rap rap,” this is a far better album than Em’s 2x Platinum Recovery.
10. Robin Thicke – Love After War
At 17 tracks, the album admittedly drags a bit near the end. That said, like I said yesterday in my blurb on “Pretty Lil Heart,” if you dim the lights and throw this album on, babies will practically make themselves.
Honorable Mentions: Dawes – Everything Is Wrong; Fitz & The Tantrums – Pickin’ Up The Pieces; Eric Church – Chief
Kat George, VH1 Tuner Writer & Jr Rockstar (@kat_george)
I ignored the album vs mixtape rule — a bunch of songs in one consumable package that together act as a sum of their individual parts to me is a feat, no matter what you call it. And Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia, Ultra was the thing I listened to most this year, so it should be recognized as such (cue the drunken night a friend and I lay on his bedroom floor and listened to “Songs For Women” exclusively on repeat for two hours. Yes, this is a thing that I actually did).
Beyonce – 4
Frank Ocean – Nostalgia, Ultra
Craft Spells – Idle Labor
Atlas Sound – Parallax
Jay-Z and Kayne West – Watch The Throne
Architecture In Helsinki – Moment Bends
Youth Lagoon – The Year Of Hibernation
Real Estate – Days
tUnE-yArDs – whokill
Beat Connection – Surf Noir
Katy Perry – Teenage Dream
Phantogram – Nightlife
Anthony Beltempo, Producer, VH1 Top 20 Video Countdown
Matt Wertz – Weights & Wings
Alpha Rev – City Farm Roots EP
Hammock – Asleep In The Downlights
Crystal Puccio, VH1 Digital Producer (@seapeaz)
About every month I get hooked on an album and obsessively listen to it from beginning to end and then repeat. 2011 provided plenty of fodder for my easily addicted brain. Here are 10 of the albums I listened to in heavy rotation throughout 2011.
1. Florence + The Machine – Ceremonials
2. Lady Gaga – Born This Way
3. Adele – 21
4. Feist – Metals
5. Beyonce – 4
6. The Joy Formidable – The Big Roar
7. Amy Winehouse – Lioness: Hidden Treasures
8. Kelly Clarkson – Stronger
9. Rihanna – Talk That Talk
10. Tori Amos – Night of Hunters
Halle Kiefer, Writer, TheFABLife.com (@HalleKiefer)
Here are my top five albums of the year; I honestly don’t think I’ve even listened to 10. I’m a musical illiterate. That being said, I LOVE LADY VOICES! Lady voices and Kanye, that’s all I want from this world.
1. Lady Gaga – Born This Way
2. Beyonce – 4
3. St. Vincent – Stranger Mercy
4. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch The Throne
5. tUnE-yArDs – whokill
Isaac Ayers, Music Supervisor (@isaacayers)
1. Adele – 21
2. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
3. Gotye – Making Mirrors
4. My Morning Jacket – Circuital
5. James Blake – James Blake
6. Foster The People – Torches
7. MuteMath – Odd Soul
8. Lykke Li – Wounded Rhymes
9. Friendly Fires – Pala
10. Black Keys – El Camino
11. Graffiti6 – Colours
Jay Moran, Sr. Producer
Tom Waits’ Bad As Me rules… Death Cab for Cutie’s Codes and Keys is the best Album of 2011 in my opinion (in the pop rock world). And my guilty pleasure is “You Are a Tourist.”
Lacey Rutter, Production Assistant, VH1 Creative Music Integration Team (@laceamaru)
1. M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
The music is a perfect fit for the album title with soaring, cinematic songs that create a dream-like atmosphere. It’s not easy to create a double-album that holds the attention of listeners in this age of a-la-carte music consumption but M83 has accomplished that.
2. SBTRKT – SBTRKT
UK producer SBTRKT recruits guest vocalists to sing over his electro arrangements. Sampha croons my favorite songs (“Hold On”, “Trials of the Past”). This is the perfect album to escape from a stressful day and get lost in.
3. The Weeknd – House of Balloons
Sexiest album of the year. A hypnotizing blend of R&B and dub with a hint of darkness.
4. Adele 21
Beautiful album. Perfect mix of edgy pop tracks and ballads.
5. Kurt Vile – Smoke Ring for My Halo
A cohesive album filled with hazy folk-rock, and, most importantly, some good songwriting.
Michael Shimchick, Executive Assistant
1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
2. The Roots – undun
3. J. Cole – Cole World: The Sideline Story
4. The Black Keys – El Camino
5. Drake – Take Care
Sabrina Weiss, Sr Editor, TheFABLife.com (@shalapitcher)
It was only after I made my top 10 albums of 2011 list that I realized its overarching theme: There’s only one new artist in the bunch — Theophilus London — and quite a few of my old favorites mixed things up with retro sounds of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Why? Personally, I was seeking comfort in the familiar this year, and I’m pretty sure I wasn’t alone. As Theophilus himself even called his debut LP Timez Are Weird These Days. By comfort, I certainly don’t mean bland. More like a grounded setting (a beat, a riff, a harmony) on which to layer new sounds, thoughts and voices. But enough philosophical blabbering, here’s the list:
1. Wilco – The Whole Love
Jeff Tweedy and company delivered haunting songs with a Western twang, rousing sing-along tracks with big ’60s sound, and silly strolling-down-the-street-whistling-to-yourself tunes. There’s a song to match your every mood. The first time I listened to it, I said, “I want to live inside of here.”
2. Theophilus London – Timez Are Weird These Days
His groovy, quirky songs are so good they nearly make me angry there’s not more people out there this good. But he’s pretty much one of a kind.
3. Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys
Like with 2008’s Narrow Stairs, this is the kind of album I want to listen to in my bedroom, on high-quality headphones, the way I used to listen to Pink Floyd in high school. No recreational drugs necessary. There are just so many instruments! And meaningful lyrics! And echo-y sound effects!
4. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
Like Fleet Foxes, Justin Vernon needed to add a little variety to album #2. Even though some of that variety sounds like the ’80s new wave instrumental music my parents used to listen to, it somehow works.
5. Jay-Z & Kanye West – Watch the Throne
Yes, I did in fact go visit the bashed and battered Maybach from the “Otis” video when they displayed it in SoHo. I am not embarrassed of this fact in the least.
6. Adele – 21
OK, I bought this one before you started hearing “Rolling in the Deep” every two minutes. Now, I have to skip tracks one and 11, for the sake of sanity, but the not-overplayed songs still make my heart ache.
7. The Beastie Boys – Hot Sauce Committee Part Two
Maybe my love of this album is driven by pure nostalgia for the Boys’ heyday, or those ’70s disco tracks, or that Santigold collaboration. Or the memory of seeing Will Ferrell breakdance and Elijah Wood drop acid.
8. Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Where else can you find empowering pop anthems next to a song about hair and another that makes us nostalgic for Nebraska, even if we’ve never been? And “Edge of Glory” snuck up on me as one of my favorite incongruous dance tracks of the year. R.I.P., Clarence Clemons.
9. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues
While their self-titled debut was pretty, it was a little too monotonous to listen to all in one sitting. The Foxes managed to mix it up, adding bigger, slightly grittier sounds to some songs without ever abandoning those gorgeous baroque harmonies.
10. Britney Spears – Femme Fatale
I never used to be a pop fan, let alone want to buy a Britney album. Then I found myself jumping up and down on the dance floor to “Till the World Ends” and laughing out loud at the “I Wanna Go” video. Call me a late-life convert.
Sam Blake Hofstetter, Director Social Media (@samdotcom)
1. Watch The Throne
2. Watch The Throne
3. Watch The Throne
4. Watch The Throne
5. Watch The Throne
Tamara Foy, Associate Producer
Adele – 21
Lady Gaga – Born This Way
Angels & Airwaves – Love, Pt. 1 & 2
Foo Fighers – Wasted Light
The Black Keys – El Camino
Tom Calderone, President, VH1 (@tomcalderone)
1. Cage The Elephant, Thank You Happy Birthday
2. Adele, 21
3. Jessie J, Who You Are
4. Florence + The Machine, Ceremonials
5. The Head And The Heart, The Head And The Heart
6. Jay-Z & Kanye West, Watch The Throne
7. Death Cab For Cutie, Codes & Keys
8. Cults, Cults
9. Noah & The Whale, Last Night On Earth
10. Amos Lee, Mission Bell
11. Coldplay, Mylo Xyloto
12. Bon Iver, Bon Iver
13. The Go! Team, Rolling Blackouts
14. Bright Eyes, The People’s Key
15. Elbow, Build A Rocket Boys!
Warren Cohen, Supervising Producer (@wjcohen)
Ranked by scrobble order (what I played the most this past year):
1. F*cked Up – David Comes To Life
Epic concept popcore album, the lineage of Husker Du’s Zen Arcade, but grander — and with conchordant female vocals to boot! Hummable and screamable.
2. Charles Bradley – No Time For Dreaming
Timeless sounding debut from a former James Brown impersonator who finally sings his own songs. Though old school vibes, themes like “Heartache and Pain” always resonate.
3. Cults – Cults
Fuzzy sing songy duo evokes the more innocent Wall of Sound era. Or it’s proof that any record employing a xylophone will always make my most listened list.
4. Real Estate – Days
Another summery vibe, but rootsier (if bands were wine, this might nicely pair with Cults). Don’t let the bad band name dissuade (who among us New Yorkers enjoys real estate?)
5. Fitz and the Tantrums – Pickin’ Up The Pieces
While technically a 2010 release, there are no sticklers here and most people grooved to this after the new year. Another reinvention of old soul but the danceable horn-y kind. Perfect party music.
6. tUnE-yArDs – who kill
Scrambled eggs of sounds and beats with some African spices. Nearly every track a hypnotic journey.
7. Adele – 21
8. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
An ultimate chill album. The soundtrack for when time stops.
9. Wild Flag – Wild Flag
Lead singer/guitarist Carrie Brownstein always entertains, whether by blogging, play-acting (Portlandia) or this new female foursome with its bunch of crisp, oft-kiltter singles.
10. Black Keys – El Camino
Just released so still digesting, but the raw Akron duo already list-worthy.